Photo Credit: Horatio Baltz
Giving the past new life is what keeps Durand Jones & The Inclinations’ fire burning. The band put out their debut, self-titled album back in 2016 and continue to receive praise for their bluesy tunes reminiscent to soul heroes like Otis Redding and James Brown. More recently, Durand Jones & The Inclinations dropped a deluxe edition of the album, which includes reproduction and ten live recordings. Highlighting the re-release, the band continues to tour across the world hypnotizing their diverse crowds with music that so wildly reflects R&B and soul music’s history.
From a rural town in Louisiana, Durand Jones was an introverted child, only coming out of his shell through the influence of a saxophone gifted by his grandmother. He played that saxophone all the way through undergrad and even on to post-grad. It was there, at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, where Jones met and formed The Indications - comprised of drummer, Aaron Frazer, guitarist Blake Rhein, bassman Kyle Houpt, and organist Justin Hubler.
Their formation was solely an outlet, a fun means to life in the Midwest. And, with a cheap budget of less than 500 dollars, the guys gave an album a go. After its release, and a one night show in Bloomington, the guys were ready to embark on separate career paths. Durand Jones & the Indications had only ever been intended, in guitarist, Blake Rhein’s words, “as a standalone recording project.” However, fate stepped in with bigger plans - plans to take the band around the world, more than once. In fact, you can catch the band live at a venue near you here.
Curious about the journey, we chatted with guitarist Blake Rhein, lead vocalist, Durand Jones, and drummer/vocalist, Aaron Frazier. Read on for what they had to say about their formation, their debut album, and touring, below:
OTW: What is your writing process like?
Guitarist Blake Rhein: It’s not the same for every song. Sometimes a hook just pops into my head, then I try to pick up a guitar or sit down at a piano as fast as I can to figure out how the chords should sit underneath it. As I’m working out the chords, I try out a bunch of different lyrics to see what sounds best and works well rhythmically. From there, we sit down as a group and say “okay what is this song about?” Aaron is great at focusing in on a concept and keeping the lyrics really centered around an idea or metaphor. We’ll call each other out if we think a lyric is not working with the context of the song and say “what do you mean by this lyric? How does it fit in with the song?” It has been a challenge for me to write like this because when I started songwriting, I would just sing whatever came to mind, and it would frequently come out as utter nonsense. Every time I sit down and write with Aaron and Durand, I learn something from their writing style.
OTW: Do you have a track or set of lyrics that you’d consider a favorite?
Guitarist Blake Rhein: I really like “I Can’t Keep My Cool” - to me that line has a sense of old school chilvary but it’s totally something I would say nowadays if I was talking about a crush.
OTW: How was playing your first SXSW?
Guitarist Blake Rhein: It definitely brings things into perspective. Rather than being the headlining band who everyone is showing up to see, you’re one of just thousands of bands trying to get a foot in the door. The best part is just hanging with other bands. We met some awesome folks this year. We hung out with Tank & The Bangas and also Natalie Prass who are all so incredibly talented and very warm people.
OTW: How is life on the road? Any items you just can’t forget?
Guitarist Blake Rhein: It’s a lot more work than I think most people imagine. There’s really not a ton a free time that’s not spent in the van. What keeps me sane is trying to stay active in what little downtime I get. Whether thats doing a few push-ups at a gas station or trying to explore a bit of the city the hour or so between soundcheck and when doors open up. It’s really easy to spend that time just sitting in the greenroom, and after a week of that, I just feel terrible. I bring a microwaveable heat pad too. On those nights when you have to bust out the sleeping bag and hit the floor, It helps me get to sleep quick. That is crucial when you only have four or five hours before you have to wake up and get on the road.
OTW: You’ve mentioned you originally made the album for yourselves not expecting it to carry this much weight - can you explain what it meant for you to put out the album in the first place?
Durand Jones: When Blake called me up and told me Terry Cole (Colemine Records) was gonna put out the songs, I felt like it meant that this was a time worth documenting. You know, I thought it’d be something I could play at my fam’s cookouts and reminisce, or feeling proud of owning a personal treasured little piece of documented history that I was a part of. But that’s it. I personally did not believe it’d have the power to take me around the world. And now in a month we’ll be in Europe for the second time this year. I was so wrong haha.
OTW: You’ve mentioned how music has helped with your introversion, how does that play into effect on stage? Is it something you struggle with?
Durand Jones: When I first started singing publicly I struggled so bad. It wasn’t until this drummer who hired me for some gigs in Louisiana, grabbed me by the shirt, and shook me real hard during our break backstage. He told me to “snap out of it” and that’s all I needed to hear. Since then I just try to go out there unabashedly. Really trying to show what the music is making me feel. I’m still learning though. My manager tells me all the time to stop closing my eyes so much! Haha!
OTW: Your line-up of spring and summer shows is pretty intense. Is there a specific date or place that you’re looking forward to most?
Durand Jones: I was born in the south and my heart will always be there. So anytime I’m down there I feel like my body and soul is recharging. I’m looking forward to Birmingham. My style of singing fits that region so well.
OTW: You’ve drawn comparisons to soul greats like Otis Redding, James Brown, and Charles Bradley - how does it feel to be placed alongside those names?
Durand Jones: All of those guys are my heroes in one way or another. They paved the way for me to have this platform. I feel I gotta keep pushing forward.
OTW: Can we expect any new material dropping soon?
Durand Jones: We just dropped a new 45 with Colemine/Dead Oceans and we have a new live album out there too. We are working a new album at the moment. I can’t wait to show folks how much more we are gonna offer this time around.
OTW: You’ve got quite a few festivals coming up as well - Bonnarroo, Bottlerock, Lollapalooza to name a few, any acts you’d like to catch live personally?
Drummer/vocalist Aaron Frazer: I’ll be trying to catch Mavis Staples at Bonnarroo. The Staples Singers have been an inspiration to me and her voice has taken on an incredible timbre in her later years. At Lollapalooza I’d like to see BROCKHAMPTON because I love what they’ve been doing in the digital world and it’d be interesting to see how it translates live.
OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch artists?
Drummer/vocalist Aaron Frazer: Ack there are so many! The first ones that come to mind are a band of three sisters we played with in Santa Fe called Lindy Vision. They make a no frills brand of indie rock that feels like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs meets ESG meets Chastity Belt. And then I’d also add Katie Von Schleicher, as well as The Horse Eyed Men, both amazing artists from Brooklyn.
OTW: Prior to the buzz around your debut album, what plans did you have and/or had to change in order to keep up?
Drummer/vocalist Aaron Frazer: We’ve all had to change our plans in a way. After we put this album out, I moved to New York to work as a freelance drummer. It was a grind, but I wound up with some steady gigs that added up to 21-25 shows a month. When the album started to catch people’s attention, I made the decision to give up all those gigs and put my eggs in this basket. At the same time, Blake had been working at a record label and Durand had plans to pursue music education. But this [is] our main focus now. It’s a scary thing to bet on yourself, but we believe in this music and each other.
OTW: Starting in Indiana, did you receive a lot of support in your city from the start?
Drummer/vocalist Aaron Frazer: The support from our hometown of Bloomington has, and continues to be incredible. It was their support that first gave us an inkling we might have something special. During our first show, it was surreal to hear them erupt in cheers in the middle of songs as we hit stops or headed into the chorus. We’re proud to have come from such a robust and talented arts community. It’s a scene that stacks up against any in the country.